Jeff “Spanky” Peterson

Retired Lt Col Air Force Pilot Responsible for the Extraction of Marcus During Operation Red Wings

“Navy SEAL Down!” Those are words no soldier in battle ever wants to hear. In the case of this week’s Team Never Quit guest, Jeff “Spanky” Peterson, the mission he had trained for as an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter pilot finally came into play in the mountains of Afghanistan. His mission: to rescue this podcast’s host – Navy SEAL 10’s Marcus Luttrell (code name: “Spider-Man”) – after a dramatic & horrific ending to Operation Red Wings. Listen in to Jeff’s detailed description of the events leading up to that harrowing rescue, and learn firsthand the degree of risk taken by U.S. soldiers on a day-in-day-out basis. The average American has no idea of the degree of “badassery” occurring in the theater of war by the U.S military around the world.

In this episode you will hear:

  • People call us heroes, but I don’t think of it that way.
  • “Pack a three-day bag. You’re going up north.”
  • A rocket-propelled grenade brought a Chinook chopper down, killing 16 men.
  • Command picks up a clicking sound on a rescue radio frequency.
  • My crew included a 57-year-old flight engineer, a gunner – a nervous University of Arizona student. My co-pilot was “Skinny”, 40-year-old seasoned by thousands of hours flying a Blackhawk.
  • Are we looking for Americans, survivors, or is this a trap by the Taliban to draw in another chopper and blow it out of the sky?
  • An elderly Afghani man arrives at a small Marine camp, with a note written by Luttrell.
  • We have to fly into hostile Taliban territory to get him out.
  • “It was dark and the weather was bad. It was a black abyss.”
  • Except for the green glow of the rooftop position lights, we were flying black.
  • “It was the Fourth of July out there.”
  • “We didn’t even know where we were going and which strobe light was the right one. It was just like a flashlight from God.”
  • Within 10 feet from the ground, the rotors kicked up a storm of dust, sending us into a total brownout. I couldn’t see the wall, the ground, or the cliff.
  • Both of ‘em were wearing Afghani man jammies. Before taking him aboard, we had to authenticate Marcus by asking him to say his dog’s name and his favorite superhero. For the record, the answers are Emma and Spider-Man.
  • When we got back, the only thing I wanted to do was talk to my wife, but we couldn’t talk openly. All I could say was “Everything is good, “Everything is really, really good.”
  • “We stick our butts on the line to save people.” “That’s our combat mission.”

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